Just three years ago, many people thought that solar thermal power plants in North Africa will provide a substantial part of Europe's energy needs, it is only a matter of time — when. But Desertec project stumbled at full speed. Industrial patrons jump ship, political will cool down, and a key pilot project suddenly stalled.
In 2009, the founders and supporters of the Desertec Industrial Initiative called the most ambitious project in the field of solar energy. Large industrial promised investors involved, politicians saw a mutually beneficial proposal, environmentalists enthusiastically made noise about the future of green energy in Europe. The planned budget of € 400 billion ($ 560 billion) was provided to pump clean solar energy from the Sahara across the Mediterranean electricity network in the ultra-high voltage power-hungry Europe.
Today, three years later, not much to show, not only about the project itself, but even the intentions of its embody.
List of recent failures scary. The project fell through at the level of the power plant. Spain has recently changed its mind to sign a declaration of intent to combine high-voltage lines of Morocco and the rest of Europe. In recent weeks, two of the largest industrial contributors and supporters of the Desertec Industrial Initiative, Siemens and Bosch, came out of the project. And perhaps most sad thing is that although the last third annual conference of the project Desertec took place last week at the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, no German minister did not bother to visit it.
"To my great regret Minister Rösler was unable to take part in the third conference on the Desertec Industrial Initiative because of overlap in the schedule," — said in a statement the German Ministry of Economics, explaining the absence of Philipp Rösler. — "In spite of this the federal government, in principle, prepared to support the pilot project Desertec in Morocco. However, there are several unresolved issues. Accordingly, the Minister Rösler advises to fall into too much euphoria. "
In other words, the political support for the project transfer of energy from the desert evaporates.
The obstacles facing the project, to be sure, has always been high and have become even more difficult to overcome in recent years. Increased political tensions in North Africa since the Arab Spring has destabilized the balance of political forces in the region and, in some cases, re-ignited the historical mistrust that exists among the border states. In addition, the demand for energy in the Middle East and North Africa are growing in spite of the fact that the lack of experience and a complex regulatory environment produce new challenges.
Where tax money?
Finally, energy and security policy tend to go hand in hand. For all his initial enthusiasm of the country immediately questioned the safety of the unification of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East in the most common network. The result was a lack of public investment funds.
"Shame" — said Dr. Wolfgang Knothe, co-founder of Desertec, a non-profit organization, which is an essential motor, promotes the idea of Desertec. — "We have to say that the entire areas covered, because we have no political support."
Hans-Josef Fell, a parliamentarian from the party "Greens" who attended a conference Desertec Industrial Initiative last week, also was upset: "Ministers do not. They were afraid the question: Where is the tax money? "
The reasons are clear political fluctuations. Renewable energy projects are more expensive than traditional fossil fuel power, and tend to require government subsidies. A Desertec is orders of magnitude more complex project than offshore wind farms, which are currently under construction in the North Sea. The idea is to satisfy a significant percentage of Europe's energy needs using solar thermal power plant in the sunny North Africa and then passing electricity through cutting-Mediterranean electricity network. Against the backdrop of Germany, after the nuclear disaster in Fukushima (Japan) at the beginning of 2011 renouncing nuclear fuel, and European policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the need to import renewable energy from places where it is abundant, is more acute than ever.
Politicians do not hesitate to publicly praise the project in part because the idea behind Desertec, it seems very promising. German Chancellor Angela Merkel sent a message to the conference, which supported the initiative to "help create a broad alliance of business, science and politics, to allow more ideas to become reality." One of the few European politicians attending a high-level European Commissioner for Energy Gunther Ettinger expressed his support for conference. But the statements of support are very far from the financial support necessary for the construction of a common network that really connects Europe and its environment.
"Everyone looks at each other, and no one does anything," — said Sven Teske, director of renewable energy, "Greenpeace". — "In this deadly, sometimes embarrassing silence, everyone praises the project. And then silence again. "
Part of the problem is related to the historical mistrust. No country wants to import electricity, energy security often leads national priorities. Also at the conference Desertec German members of parliament were marked by the cost of supporting the power generation and transmission.
"The scarcest resource in Europe — money," — said the German parliamentarian Michael Koch, who is an environmental representative of the Free Democratic Party. — "It is even more rare than the energy or rare earth metals."
The ministers who have not visited the conference, there were more circumspect. The German Ministry for the Environment has refrained from comment. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has expressed its support for "all efforts to deepen the cooperation between Europe and North Africa in the field of renewable energy."
Political tensions erupted last week after the failure of plans to sign an agreement on the construction of three Moroccan solar power stations (part of a pilot project Desertec), when suddenly the signing was not Spain. The first signs appeared when at the end of last month it was announced that the cost of the Moroccan solar energy projects — more than € 600 million. The agreement was expected was to be signed at the Desertec Industrial Initiative conference last week, and on-site have been officials from Malta, Luxembourg, Morocco, Italy and France. But no Spanish project depends.
"This topic has been in the news," — said Klaus Schmidtke, a representative of Desertec Industrial Initiative, which claimed that the declaration of intent, was expected to be signed in the next few weeks. — "There was a lot of expectations."
Fluctuations in Spain in the last minute point to another major difficulty facing the project. Although the energy demand in North Africa and the Middle East, the main renewable energy projects are often not sent money. The only way for the countries in the region to build a power plant on renewable energy — is guaranteed export. To build power plants in countries such as Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt, to be exported to 90 percent of energy produced. In order to cover the initial investment.
Exports of green energy include solar association of countries and consumer countries, such as Germany, with long high-voltage power lines. It is expensive, and any country that will be part of the proposed new network, such as Spain, may disrupt the work. Nevertheless, the network without any significant investments will insignificant number.
"For a really good project development requires such a regional structure, so you can be sure of the environment," — said Teske. — "The business model is based on the sale of electricity in the country, which right now is not even connected [supplier] power lines."
And it is not clear whether they ever will be, against the background of a significant investors are fleeing the ship. When Desertec started in 2009, he had a long list of corporate shareholders and partners. Today, the list of shareholders includes Deutsche Bank, insurance company Munich RE, UniCredit and objects E.ON and RWE.
But the two biggest contributors to the recently discontinued their support: the industrial giant Siemens and Bosch, the largest auto parts supplier. Siemens relied on cost-cutting measures, and its withdrawal from the project consistent with its policy of leaving all solar energy projects. However, this company was a founding member.
"We regret that Siemens and Bosch at the end of the year will leave the Desertec Industrial Initiative,» — said Schmidtke, who mentioned that the Desertec Industrial Initiative is in the stage of accession negotiations with other companies, but declined to specify the name. — "This is not an issue for the success of our work. We have a lot of companies in our network. Therefore, we will continue our work, and there is a lot that needs to be done. "
Intention, in other words, are numerous. But the action? "The next steps will follow soon," — insists representative Desertec Industrial Initiative Schmidtke. — "Specific projects are progressing. Political negotiations are continuing. The situation is quite normal. "